One of the best moments of any Liars show is hearing the crowd squawk “We’re doomed! We’re doomed!” on cue during “We Fenced Other Houses With The Bones of Our Own.” Maybe not the most uplifting audience sing-along in the indie rock world, but one of the most reliably entertaining. One of the things that make Liars so fascinating after five albums, each one so completely different from the others, is that even though they play around with all the classic tropes of art-damaged angst-noise perv-rock, they exude a totally cheery and boyish enthusiasm onstage, goofing around with their keyboards and beatboxes. Nobody seems less morbid singing “I dragged her body to the parking lot” than these guys.
The L.A.-via-Berlin band started out in Brooklyn, during that extremely strange moment in the early 2000s when the New York rock scene abruptly stopped sucking. So their New York shows this weekend — Thursday at Bowery Ballroom, Sunday at Music Hall of Williamsburg — were a sort of homecoming. Angus Andrews shook his gangly six-six frame and dedicated the Nick Cave murder-blues ballad “Scissor” to his sister, which was kind of funny. “Crowd surfing is not cool anymore,” Angus observed at Bowery, apparently inspired by some of the sorriest crowd-surfing attempts ever witnessed. (Also, one guy brought a glowstick and kept throwing it around. Dude, there’s nothing sadder than a lone glowstick.)
The three-piece Liars were augmented with two guys from the excellent opening band, Fol Chen, doing songs from their “German witchcraft industrial” phase (They Were Wrong So We Drowned), their “psychedelics make you smart” phase (Drums Not Dead), their “rock & roll” phase (Liars) and their “rock & roll witchcraft psychedelic” phase (the brand new Sisterworld). They even reached back to their earliest Williamsburg days with “The Garden Was Crowded and Outside,” a rare (and extremely welcome) dip into their 2001 debut, They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top. They only did a handful of tunes from their 2007 masterpiece Liars, easily their most immediately enjoyable and body-rocking music — “Sailing To Byzantium,” “Plaster Casts of Everything,” and at Music Hall, “Freak Out.” (The love-as-feedback jam “Pure Unevil” was very missed.) The Bowery fans were into the older tracks; the considerably foxier audience at Music Hall of Williamsburg (or as Angus called it, “Williams Hall of Musicburg”) was more into the savage new Sisterworld tunes, especially the kill-‘em-all rant “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant.” They climaxed by turning the Krautrock groove “Proud Evolutuion” into a Eurodisco workout, kind of like Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” except without feelings or love. Both nights ended with the 2003 classic “Broken Witch,” which has turned into the goth-chick “Sex Machine.”
Bizarrely, the crowd at Bowery was virtually all male, which is highly unusual for a Liars show. But the way everyone screeched “We’re doomed”? Very usual.